Quick Picks and Must Reads

The holiday season in Chicago really isn't about relaxing by the fireplace and snuggling into a good book, despite visions of the same. Nonetheless, these are the books that you've got to add to your wish list, if you have a sliver of time to read. If you'd rather not read why I treasure them, perhaps it would suffice to say that all of them have received rave reviews on Amazon.com.

I began 2010 with Charlene Baumbich's Stray Affections. I read it on a 36 hour, transatlantic journey back to Chicago after visiting with my parents in Muscat, Oman. It is always gut wrenching to leave my parents who live continents away. This trip back was particularly hard. My sister had had a fall and had broken her wrist. She had to have rods inserted into her arm to hold her bones together. Further, my parents had just completed a tiring house move. Stray Affections become my antidote to tears on the long flights back. Don't let the title fool you - this isn't a mush and gush romance. It is a warm chick flick in a book and left me with a lingering sense of well-being and hope. It also became the first 'grown up book' I shared with my tween daughter, as opposed to the many Young Adult books she reads that I find more adult than Young Adult. Both of us loved Baumbich for the same reasons and discovered a great author to bond over. We're waiting for days off from school - for both of us - to begin reading Baumbich's latest, Divine Appointments.

Switching gears from heartwarming to intellectually stimulating, I suggest Palmer's Let Your Life Speak. People either love it or hate it. I have one word for this little gem: Potent. I read it as part of my Masters in Communications at Northwestern this Fall. At 100 pages or so, give this book a chance. It may very well alter how you look at life. Also, part of my course work is Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely - it too falls in that same category. I've only just begun it and every time I put it down, it seems to call my name. It's the kind of book you wish you could devote all day to.

Now what if I told you there was a book that acknowledges that our obsession for all that bling "yields environmental destruction and social inequity" but also "fuels creativity, the desire for discovery, and needed economic development. Properly channeled, the treasure impulse might actually propel us toward a fairer and better world." That is precisely the stuff of Treasures of the Earth: Need, Greed, and a Sustainable Future by Essex Junction, Vermont resident and University of Vermont professor, Saleem Ali.
Saleem H. Ali is pro-consumption and pro-environment."--Forbes Magazine.

Saleem Ali thinks like an environmentalist, a diplomat, a wealthy industrialist, an impoverished villager, a government regulator, a product innovator, and a father. To him, environmental conservation can succeed only if vying factions communicate and collaborate. - National Geographic

This is the kind of book my dad would love to dissect with me, my kids and any one who'd care to listen. Infact, all these books open a window to a world that you didn't know existed. Narnia for the thinker in you. Here's my interview with Saleem for Aramco World Magazine.

Next on my reading list is Barefoot in Baghdad by Manal Omar, a Washington D.C resident. As co-founder of Refugee Assistance Programs ( RAP), here in Chicago, I'm all too familiar with the fallout of war, right here in our backyard. There are scores of Iraqi's who've been displaced since the US decided to invade Iraq. As US refugees, the Iraqi people struggle below the poverty line, determined to make it in this city we call home. Again, two thumbs up for Barefoot in Baghdad which falls into the same category as Other Side of the Sky by Farah Ahmedi.

Farah Ahmedi, a Wheaton IL resident and former Afghan refugee was mentored by my good friend and fellow do-gooder, Alyce Litz who is a Board Member of Love Christian Clearing House. Rarely do you find such a courageous read. If you're having a bad day or are living through a nightmare, read this book. Not only will it jolt you into a reality that little children in many, many nations live through, it will also give you that shot in the arm you so need. So if you think I'm attracted to just gloom and doom, it could not be further from the truth. I know there is a God, and I know He is a better friend to us than we can ever be to ourselves. That in a nutshell has always been my philosophy. If that little girl, Farah Ahmedi, could do it despite a leg lost to land mines, three years in a German hospital without any family by her side, despite all her trials.. so can you. There is a time for self-doubt and helplessness and there is a time to recognize that there usually is a light at the end of a horrific tunnel. This is a book that will help you make that leap.

As I always say, pick a book that matters. Let it challenge you, touch you, make you to grow. After all, we only have so much time.